SUD Talks: A Model For Conversation

We attended SUD Talks on Saturday night at the Crest Theater.
The event is a TED Talk like confab that shines a spotlight on one of the most vexing issues of our time: addiction or substance use disorder (SUD).
The event was produced by former Delray Drug Task Force Director Suzanne Spencer. A standing room only crowd heard from elected officials (US Representative Lois Frankel and State Attorney Dave Aronberg), large local employers seeking to give people a second chance, treatment providers, counselors, people in recovery and our Police Chief Jeff Goldman.
It was a powerful and poignant evening.
As we all know, addiction, recovery, heroin, sober homes and its impact on lives, neighborhoods, public safety personnel and budgets are front and center in the Delray municipal election which is in 8 days.
With every candidate talking about the issue it was conspicuous to see only one candidate–Jim Chard–show up; especially for the Seat 2 race which seems to be built on the impact of the industry on Delray.
But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at all.

Mr. Chard has been working on the issue with the Drug Task Force and lives amid sober homes in his neighborhood. He’s hard at work, knows the issue inside and out and knows the players who can actually affect change.
His opponents–have been largely absent on the issue. One has a Facebook page long on vitriol, but short on solutions.
I prefer my leadership to be real not virtual. And to be real, you have to be present and invested.  If  you expect progress, it’s important to support candidates who are involved in the issue not merely paying lip service to it. And that’s enough politics…for today anyway.
What’s been great about the Drug Task Force and SUD Talks is its depth and its power to convene the key players on the issue.

SUD Talks dived into the nuances and humanity of the crisis which is multi layered and complex.
The evening took us inside the world of the police officer showing up at the chaotic scene of an overdose and being tasked with saving a life.
Delray officers responded to over 600 such calls last year, Chief Goldman told the standing room only crowd. That’s astounding and tragic.
But to listen to our Chief in person is to get a glimpse into the challenges facing our officers every single day. It’s also evident that Chief Goldman is immensely proud of his officers and deeply concerned too, as good leaders should be and Jeff is a good leader.
I happen to know many officers. They are hard working, dedicated and stressed. So are our firefighter/paramedics. This is a challenge without a defined play book.
We also heard from Dr. Ashok Sharma, a psychiatrist at Fair Oaks Pavilion, which is part of Delray Medical Center.
Dr. Sharma bravely talked about burn out among clinicians, counselors and treatment center staff as they deal with complicated cases and “frequent fliers” –people who consistently relapse.
He acknowledged the real dangers of burn out and his talk focused on the importance of compassion and empathy as a way of reconnecting with the very reason why professionals enter the field.
It was a powerful and real speech. And citizens and policymakers need to hear from the providers and front line personnel on this crisis in order to understand the scope of the challenge.
We heard uplifting stories as well; of people thriving in recovery, overcoming adversity, finding meaning, love and health.
A recent post on this blog warned of the barrage of election mail and messaging sure to come this week.
The issue of recovery–a national one–but one of great importance in Delray Beach will be front and center.
Candidates will tell you they will close sober homes, drive the industry out and clean up neighborhoods.
Many will ignore the complexities, laws and nuances surrounding the issue.
They almost certainly won’t discuss the need for these services in this and every community. Almost everyone has been or will be touched with addiction issues in their lives.
It would be nice to remember these are our son’s and daughters, fathers, mothers and friends caught in the grip of a deadly disease. I have several friends who came here for recovery and have become stellar contributors to our community.
Compassion and intelligent conversation is needed if we are to truly make a dent and rid our neighborhoods of bad operators and those who exploit people needing help.
SUD Talks delivered that by convening the agents of change in our community.
Delray has a serious problem. Our city is not alone.

But it’s also good to know that our community and Palm Beach County are on the cutting edge of leading the way for communities across Florida and America.

Heroin: It’s On The Locals


America is experiencing a horrendous opiate addiction crisis.

But aside from a few brief mentions at the conventions, the presidential race is almost devoid of any discussion of the issue. And this week’s debate mentioned nothing about the crisis.

Meanwhile, cities across the country are being stressed to the max by heroin and opiate addiction. Delray Beach is one of those cities.

And aside from municipal budgets being strained, there’s the human side of the issue, with lives being ruined and or lost and front line personnel in law enforcement, EMS and health professions feeling the daily pressure as they try desperately to save people and make an impact.

Before we can “Make America Great Again” or be “Better Together” we had better take a long, hard look at what’s happening on the streets of our cities and towns. It is clear that solutions are not coming from Washington—which blew a promised deadline for a joint letter from HUD and the Justice Department—the political class seems more focused on fighting than fixing. So any solutions or even chance of making things better will have to come from local government. Addiction is a helluva problem and it’s getting worse.

You don’t have to look much further than Delray Beach, which continues to report record numbers of overdoses and heroin related calls for service.

As of two weeks ago, there have been over 1,000 doses of Narcan (a drug that reverses overdoses) administered by our Fire Department. The Police Department has given out another 83 doses of the costly drug. Grants for Narcan have dried up and prices are soaring. In fact, there is a price-gouging investigation that has been launched, according to officials.

The Delray PD has responded to 360 drug related calls as of a few weeks ago, more than West Palm Beach, which is a bigger city (290 calls). You can bet those numbers have gone up.

Boca is not immune either, no city is. In the first 7 months of 2016, Boca Fire administered 77 doses of Narcan.

So folks, we have a problem.

We are not alone.

We are not unique.

But this is a huge issue and according to city officials tasked with following the crisis, the number of homes being used to house people with addictions are growing. Sadly, while there are many excellent providers doing great and much needed work, there is a virtual cottage industry of bad operators in our community who are exploiting people for profits and doing far more harm than good.

Code Enforcement, our police department and the Fire Department are on the case—but the problem is complex, growing and multi-layered. We are nowhere near turning the tide.

Fortunately, there are some bright spots.

Our Police Department, led by Chief Jeff Goldman, is aggressively working on the issue from a holistic perspective. Aside from deploying investigative and enforcement resources, Chief Goldman is hiring a licensed clinical social worker to help the department understand and work more effectively with an increasingly challenging population; those in the throes of addiction. He is also closing in on a memorandum of understanding between the department and FAU, which would give the department an intern that would work on these issues.

Another bright spot is the work of the Delray Drug Task Force under the leadership of Suzanne Spencer.

The Task Force has become a valuable clearinghouse for information and collaboration. At the table: local law enforcement, fire officials, local prosecutors, representatives from Congresswoman Lois Frankel’s office, responsible providers and business leaders ranging from Plastridge Insurance to Ocean Properties. It’s impressive.

On the pro-active side of the challenge, Spencer is taking the message of sobriety into local schools. The effort, called “Living Skills in the Schools” should touch 18,000-20,000 children this year.

Another bright spot is the passionate work being done by retired police Lt. Marc Woods, who now works for the city on enforcement issues relating to housing. A bright and resourceful guy, Mr. Woods brings a ton of experience to the issue.

The long-awaited joint letter from the Justice Department and HUD is also imminent, but sadly past its deadline which is typical of Washington dysfunction these days.

Speaking of dysfunction, while Congress “approved” a plan to fight heroin recently it has failed to fund the effort—and you wonder why people are angry at the establishment politicians in D.C. Ugh…

Meanwhile, while prescriptions for opiates have quadrupled nationally in the past four years, we learn that manufacturers of the drugs have spent nearly $900 million on lobbying efforts to keep the pills pumping.



Million. Dollars.


So clearly, this will be on the locals, unless of course Washington wakes up, which isn’t likely.

We can tell you one thing for sure; nobody on the front lines can afford to wait. They are knee deep in dealing with the crisis.

It would sure be nice if they had a little help.

Moments…Define Leaders

Leaders not only seize the day, they seize the moments.

Leaders not only seize the day, they seize the important moments.

There are so many nuances to leadership that I’m not sure if it’s possible to fully grasp even a fraction of what there is to know about the subject.

But one thing effective leaders seem to grasp is the power of moments.

The best leaders seem to know when to act.

The best leaders seem to know when to compromise.

The best leaders seem to know when it’s the  best time to seize opportunity.

And the best leaders seem to know the precise moment to frame an issue and make a lasting impression.

We have seen it on a national level during moments of crisis when our country seems ready to learn and ready to move.

Today, is just such a moment and I’m hopeful that Washington can overcome partisanship and politics and do something positive in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando. A moment was missed after Newtown, Connecticut and many moments since then. Each time a moment is missed, people lose faith in their leaders.

On a local level, mayors and city council members also are given moments to seize on issues of far less gravity than what occurred in Orlando a few weeks back. But they are moments nonetheless and they aren’t leaders if they don’t recognize them and do something positive with them.

Often they come in the wake of pitched battles, which can be very personal when waged on a local level because we are often debating our neighbors and friends on sensitive issues.

In Delray, the recent iPic showdown provided a moment and so does the immediate battle over special events in Delray and the hiring of a city attorney.

The iPic moment was missed. There was an opportunity  to acknowledge and address the angst over change and development but also to embrace the opportunity to welcome a new company, jobs, investment and the cleaning up of a derelict property. Sadly, it was missed but there’s still a chance to grab an opportunity.

While certain approvals have been granted, it has been reported that a developer agreement that would actually enable the project to proceed remains elusive. Who is helping to make that happen? That’s a moment to be seized and a chance to make a project better by working together. Because once a legislative decision is made, it’s incumbent to make the most of it. Even if you– especially if you– as an individual elected official voted against something. Because unless it’s immoral, dangerous, illegal, discriminatory or unethical– once a decision is made  you are duty bound to accept it if we are to be a society that respects the decisions made by governing bodies. And if we don’t, then those decisions will never be accepted and we will never be able to rely on a governmental action.

As for special events, the city commission made a point. Actually, several: quality is better than quantity, where possible events should be contained and events come with a cost. The event producers get it and they should be credited with stepping up and redesigning and rethinking many long time events. This is the moment where you declare victory, thank people for compromising, credit them for proposing solutions and move on. There are bigger problems to deal with than Garlic Fest, which many would argue does not even constitute a problem.

Like heroin.

I attended a drug task force meeting last week led by the impressive Suzanne Spencer.

It was an extraordinary experience. In the room, were all the major front line players–treatment providers, business leaders, cops, firefighters, code enforcement personnel, hospital officials and legislative aides.

Folks, we are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. People are dying and it’s not just kids it’s middle age people too. Opioid and heroin Abuse is rampant and scary. And it’s here in our community–and elsewhere too as evidenced by the presence of top-level officials from Boynton Beach and Pompano Beach.

While the stats are depressing and terrifying and the stories of exploitation and death horrifying it was heartening to see grassroots leaders working together.

Information and advice is being shared, people on the front lines seem to be cooperating and they appear to be working on the problem on all ends–prevention, treatment and everything in between. They are leaders seizing a moment.

They deserve our prayers, support, hearts, minds and resources. There are opportunities in crisis and the very best leaders recognize the moment and heed the call.